What in the heck is a “geek”?

Zeek the Geek 300x199 What in the heck is a geek?In their annual  “Science and Engineering Indicators” report the National Science Foundation defines “geeks” as any workers with a bachelor’s level of knowledge and education in science or engineering-related fields or workers in occupations that require some degree of technical knowledge or training. For our purposes, this descriiption is a good starting point.

There are many theories on the origin of the word “geek.” The one I first remember was a character at a freak show or a old-time circus side-show who bit the heads off of various critters, but primarily the heads of chicken. Wasn’t Alice Cooper Alice Cooper Bites Head Off Chicken or Ozzie Osborne (very pre-reality show) supposed to have plucked heads from chickens and bats? Seems like it’s derivation may very well come from the low German (as opposed to “high”) word “geck” and means someone to be derided, scorned, made fun of.  That makes sense. Shakespeare uses it in “Twelfth Night”.

Why have you suffer’d me to be imprison’d, Kept in a dark house, visited by the priest, And made the most notorious geck and gul That e’er invention play’d on? Tell me why.

Geeks and nerds and dorks and dweebs are common parlance used to describe, in essence, a misfit, someone who is not accepted into “cool” society because well, they’re weird. But it seems that the word has taken on a positive connotation in modern times and although still describing a misfit or an outcast, it also describes somebody who is obsessed with some peculiar or not so peculiar endeavor like in computer geek or science fiction geek, or even band geek.

My definition is that geek means “smart, obsessed, uncool.” In his book about success, Outliers, sociologist and author Malcolm Gladwell writes about “10,000 hours of practice.” Citing Bill Gates as an example, it takes about 10,000 hours to become a “genius” at something, to hone your skills to the point that you’re an expert. Gates had the opportunity to practice his skills at a time when few others did. If he  not had that opportunity, they probably wouldn’t have become what they did. Of course, practice alone does not a great geek make but it is necessary.

Temple Grandin, the noted autistic and author writes “if engineers spent on all their time socializing, they would never have had the time to figure out how to build the Golden Gate Bridge.” If you spent all that time mastering a skill, you’re not going to have a lot of time to learn how to master how to hook-up with cheerleaders.  And most of us didn’t.

Geeks are not inherently anti-social. They’re often good socially when they’re in their own social context. All those guys (and a few women) who go to Comicon have a lot of fun together and generally do as well socially in that context as anyone else. But, when taken out of their milieu, out of their mini-society, then their relations are often more strained.

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